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January 11, 2014

"Compassionate Conservatism" ... Kill It With Fire!

Ben Domenech's "compassionate conservatism" piece at The Federalist is a good read. It begins with a takedown of Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner's renewed call for slightly smaller big government, since we apparently didn't learn the lesson of how poorly this works during the GWB years.

As you can see, though, Gerson and Wehner have identified the real cause of our problems:

One of the main problems with an unremittingly hostile view of government — held by many associated with the tea party, libertarianism and “constitutionalism” — is that it obscures and undermines the social contributions of a truly conservative vision of government. Politics requires a guiding principle of public action.”

“For popular liberalism, it is often the rule of good intentions: If it sounds good, do it. Social problems can be solved by compassionate, efficient regulation and bureaucratic management — which is seldom efficient and invites unintended consequences in complex, unmanageable systems (say, the one-sixth of the U.S. economy devoted to health care). The signal light for government intervention is stuck on green. For libertarians and their ideological relatives, the guiding principle is the maximization of individual liberty. It is a theory of government consisting mainly of limits and boundaries. The light is almost always red.” (emphasis added)

According to these guys, if you're reading this blog, you are the problem.

You want a government of limits and boundaries? Are you nuts?

I really wish Gerson and Wehner would have the courage to admit that this worldview isn't appreciably different than that of the left. Although they mouth the right words against it to frame their argument, deep down they're fine with the basic structure of the left's governing vision (i.e., centralized control over every aspect of your life, for your own good) and their main differentiator appears to be that "conservatives" like them will use this unbounded power benevolently, while the left will go to extremes. Vote for Conservative Brand™ Big Government and all your problems will be solved!

James Madison (old dead white guy, demonstrably constitutionalist, fan of the original tea party) eloquently stated the real issue that eludes big government fanbois like Gerson and Wehner, who threw some quotes from the Federalist Papers into their essay but strangely missed this one.

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Gerson and Wehner fail to grasp that second part. What they call "compassionate conservatism", I call "laying the groundwork for left's lawless SuperState". Madison was smart enough to know that you can't depend on "angels" like Gerson and Wehner to govern you, so you'd better focus on guarding against the devil ...

... which makes for an awkward segue to Marco Rubio (R-Amnesty), but I'm going to do it anyway.

... Senator Marco Rubio’s proposal this week for an anti-poverty reform agenda is a useful example of the problem these compassionate conservative assumptions run into when you attempt to put them into practice. While consolidation and block-granting are all well and good, Rubio doesn’t stop there:
“Mr. Rubio will also propose Wednesday to replace the Earned Income Tax Credit, which was used by 28 million tax payers in 2011, with a new “wage enhancement” system that directs federal money towards supplementing the income of people who work in “qualifying low-income jobs.”

Rubio’s motivations here are noble, and almost certainly pass Gerson’s “public good” test: wage stagnation is indeed a problem, and the EITC is a warped system which has racked up a roughly 25% fraud percentage over the past decade. But think for a moment about what he’s proposing here: a future of long fights over what a “qualifying low-income job” is, a definition ripe for unions to exploit under future Democratic administrations. And let’s not even get started on the audits and oversight. I thought that limited government advocates would want to get government out of businesses, not further integrating them. ...

To the left, ever to the left, never to the right, always to the left ...

This is how the "ratchet" works, and Rubio just lurches from disappointment to disappointment on these issues. And it's not just him ... the GOP as a whole hasn't exactly been a bulwark against the creeping advance of statism.

We'll be hearing a lot about "income inequality" in the runup to the 2014 midterms, since that's apparently what the Democrats want to talk about instead of Obamacare. You can rest assured that "solutions" to this non-problem offered by the GOP will reflexively leap in the direction of "compassion" and not in the direction of STOP!

Come to think of it, I'm really not sure what Gerson and Wehner are complaining about. Their wing of the party has pretty much gotten what it wants at every turn, and look at all we have to show for it.

Related: Compassionate conservatives strike back against Tea Party, Some Problems with Rubio's Poverty Proposals

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posted by Andy at 03:00 PM

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